Updated: Dec 30, 2018
From recognizing what you need to naming actions that protect your energy and space.
Setting Up Boundaries Is Necessary
Teach people how to treat you by creating boundaries. Visualize boundaries as the lines you draw around yourself to protect your time, energy and well-being. By creating boundaries, you are telling people what your limits and expectations are when it comes to engaging with you. You are also telling them what they can expect from you if they cross a boundary. Know ahead of time that some people will test you, especially if they have been mistreating you in the past. Stand strong in your new foundation and surround yourself with people who will support you. Now, let's get into it!
Use strong boundaries to limit your exposure to unnecessary negativity in life. Learn to say "No" and "No more". You deserve peace. -Akiroq Brost
1. Tune in to your feelings. Recognize how what people say or do makes you feel and respond. Are you feeling bad? Knot in your stomach? Drained after contact with them? Second-guessing yourself? Checking in with yourself and reflecting on your emotional wellness is key to upholding your boundaries because you'll be better able to identify when they've been crossed.
2. Identify the who, when, and what of the boundary situation. Is it the same person crossing your boundaries? Are multiple people crossing the same boundary? What are patterns that you notice? It may be harder to check people for their misbehavior and disrespect if you haven't identified it for yourself. Take the time to name the actions, people, and settings involved when you notice a boundary being crossed.
3. Figure out how you will set the boundary. Once you recognize what needs to stop and who to talk to, it's time to make it known! This can be a hard step, especially if you avoid confrontation, conflict, and don't typically stand up for yourself. Be calm and direct during your delivery. If you inform someone of your boundary and they try to argue about or discredit it, don't engage with them. They want to see how strong the boundary is and acknowledging their attempt may give them the message that there may be room to push the boundary. You may also realize that some people no longer fit into your life when you set these expectations for how you want to be treated. It may be sad for you to lose those friends but also reflect on the quality of friendship you are seeking and that you deserve.
4. Plan how you will care for yourself. You may experience feelings of guilt, weakness, and unsure of your decision to uphold boundaries. All of what you may feel has a valid space and you should explore them. Remind yourself that you are setting boundaries to take care of yourself. You have decided to use your energy and time in ways that compliment your well-being. Try to journal, eat good food, exercise, see a movie, and do whatever helps you to focus on you.
Although you may have a support team of people you can count on, who respect your boundaries, and may even try to help you protect them, you have the ultimate responsibility for maintaining your inner peace. You can never control other people, you can only control what you personally do. So remember, your boundary is an expectation and essentially a request for how you want people to treat and engage with you. Your boundary is also how you plan to respond when the boundary is upheld or crossed.
Let's look at an example:
Sharone does not enjoy visiting family because many people comment about their body, which makes them feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. These comments usually come from elder women who are respected for "just being honest". However, many people feel their comments are unnecessary, harmful, and even mean.
What could a new boundary for Sharone be?
Call before visiting and request that comments about their body not be made, and also share what the response would be should comments be made.
Say, "I do not like people commenting about my body, especially in a critical way. If the conversation begins to shift in that direction, I will not engage by leaving the room."
Ignore the comment and completely change the topic each time.
Address the comment by saying, "Those comments make me uncomfortable. I’d appreciate if you didn’t discuss my body at all so that we can enjoy our time together."
Decide to decrease or stop family visits for a while.
It is extremely important to acknowledge family dynamics and recognize that not everyone feels they are in a position to speak up to family members, especially elders. In those situations, find ways to show yourself compassion and seek support. This can be in the form of reading body-positive affirmations on your phone or calling a friend to take your mind off or vent about the situation.
What has helped you set boundaries? Have you noticed differences in having this conversation with family, friends, and partners? What has helped you navigate comments about your body or appearance, the type of work you do, the people you date, etc.?
Rafaella Smith-Fiallo is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owns Healing Exchange LLC. She specializes in supporting healing after sexual violence, building self-esteem and confidence, and teaching healthy sexuality to individuals, those in relationships, and within supportive group settings. She also cofounded Afrosexology, a sex-positive, pleasure based sexuality education platform.